Blue skies. Record Temperatures. Time to relax.
This weekend was stunning. Blue skies over most of Great Britain, record temperatures for the May Bank holiday. The smell of BBQs wafting over the garden fence. Summery music echoing through the trees. The apocalypticesque rush for burger rolls at 10am in the local supermarket.
Our original plans for the weekend were to go walking. We enjoy Geocaching (a modern day take on the treasure hunt) and planned to do some local trails with the kids, but with the weather forecasting a heatwave, backed off our ambitions and spent the weekend tending to the garden, playing games with the kids, enjoying the sunshine and socialising.
A sense of calm
And we weren’t alone. Talking to people this morning I felt a general sense of calm with people, which is unusual first thing in the morning; typically people are in a rush, their conversation is fast and curt; their attention focused on smartphone and watch as they hurry off to their next appointment, probably occupied with the email they’ve got to deal with as soon as they get to work.
But this morning people had more time to talk. The smiles were genuine and the pace, as the good weather continues, was slower.
It occurred to me that the good weather had put a “handbrake” of sorts on many people. It was just too hot to rush about. Dangerous even.
So people had slowed down. And for once, their thankful bodies got the rest and recovery that they needed.
It is well known that sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, a hormone that is shown to correlate with reduced indicators of chronic stress, such as high blood pressure. What is less well know is that when the weather forces us to slow down and spend time sitting around talking with friends, part of our nervous system (the ventral vagal nerve) is engaged. This system is more commonly known as the “Social Engagement System” as it connected to our facial and neck muscles and helps us express and empathise emotions. It also innervates our major organs, such that spending time with people that make us laugh, smile and even sing, directly affects our resting heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. We are pack animals after all, and when the weather forces us to slow down and be present with people we like, our wellbeing improves.
The happiest people in the world
But Matt, aren’t the Scandinavians the happiest people on the planet you ask? In 2017 the World Happiness Report concluded that the top 3 happiest countries are:
It’s true that the higher the latitude, the less sunshine you get, but perhaps those happy cultures don’t wait for the sun to shine to engage their Social Engagement System. Cultural norms in Norway include sauna and cold exposure, both of which also build resilience to stress. It is also likely that extremes of weather in the opposite direction (ie cold) have encouraged increased social connection. Both of these factors are likely contributors to their happiness, offsetting the lower levels of Vitamin D that people in higher latitudes are exposed to.
So my question is this. Do you leave your wellbeing to the whimsy of British Weather? Or are you actively going to manage your rest come rain or shine?
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